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Georgians Protest for Independent Media

A court case may have turned free media over to the government.

rustavi

Hundreds in Tbilisi, Georgia took to the streets two days in a row to protest what many perceive to be the government takeover of independent media.

Rustavi-2 is a popular television station in Georgia, and is known for publishing reports that are critical of the government — indeed, for being “Georgia’s most important opposition voice.”

On Thursday, Georgia’s Supreme Court put the television station back in the hands of Kibar Khalvashi, its former co-owner who is widely thought to have government ties.

Hundreds in Tbilisi, Georgia took to the streets two days in a row to protest what many perceive to be the government takeover of independent media.

Rustavi-2 is a popular television station in Georgia, and is known for publishing reports that are critical of the government — indeed, for being “Georgia’s most important opposition voice.”

On Thursday, Georgia’s Supreme Court put the television station back in the hands of Kibar Khalvashi, its former co-owner who is widely thought to have government ties.

Khalvashi had sued to reclaim the station, saying that authorities under the previous Georgian government forced him to sell the station for too little. But members of Georgia’s opposition argued that the suit was but a ploy for Bidzina Ivanishvili to bring Rustavi-2 under his control.

Khalvashi is a close associate of Ivanishvili, who is the billionaire founder of Georgian Dream, the current ruling party. He served as prime minister for a year, but, at present, does not hold elected office. Nevertheless, he is believed by many to be the power behind the proverbial throne.

The government asked people to respect the ruling and vowed “respect towards the freedom of media.”

But critics, including the U.S. Embassy in Georgia and the OSCE’s representative for freedom of the media, expressed concern. Members of the opposition vowed to continue to fight for a free media.

Perhaps most significantly, hundreds of Georgian people in Tbilisi protested, first outside the Supreme Court and then outside Rustavi-2’s headquarters — in some cases spending the night — to try to use free speech and assembly to protect their country’s free media.

Photo credit: VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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